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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles judge on Thursday denied a bid to temporarily halt labor contract negotiations between the largest U.S. actors union and Hollywood's major studios, paving the way for talks to resume.
The long-stalled negotiations were to have begun again last Tuesday, but were postponed when Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg sought an injunction to stop a new SAG negotiating task force -- put in place by the guild's national governing board -- from resuming talks over his objections.
In denying Rosenberg's request for a temporary restraining order, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said SAG's "bylaws allow the board to do exactly what they did."
SAG's 120,000 members have been without a film and prime-time TV contract since their old pact expired on June 30, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the negotiator for the major studios, issued what it said was a last, best offer.
Major sticking points have centered on issues of how much actors should get paid for work distributed over the Internet.
Since July, SAG has been embroiled in an internal power struggle over how to proceed and who will lead, which has included talk of a strike amid the weak economy. The rancor eventually led to Rosenberg's request for the injunction against more talks.
David White, the interim national executive director for SAG who was installed in his post by a SAG faction opposing Rosenberg, welcomed the judge's decision.
"I'm pleased that we can put this matter behind us and dedicate our complete focus to the needs of Screen Actors Guild members," White said in a statement.
SAG said its board would meet on Sunday, but did not say if the resumption of contract talks would be on the agenda. A SAG spokeswoman had no immediate comment beyond White's statement.
A representative from the AMPTP declined to comment.
An attorney for Rosenberg told reporters outside Chalfant's courtroom he would appeal the decision, and a lawsuit by Rosenberg and his allies within SAG, which challenges the national governing board's move, remains in place.
Entertainment attorneys not involved in the lawsuit said the appeal could take about three weeks to resolve.
Norman Samnick, an entertainment attorney who has represented studios but is not involved in negotiations with SAG, said Rosenberg and his faction had hurt the union because of the delay to any possible restart of negotiations. "It's like the gang that couldn't shoot straight," he said.
Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer with ties to labor and management, said the legal cloud hanging over negotiations would complicate things. "I would expect the studios, at least at this preliminary stage, would probably not be willing to resume negotiations," Handel said.
After months of stalled contract talks, Rosenberg and then chief negotiator Doug Allen said in late November they would ask SAG members to vote on whether to give them the authority to call a strike, but their plan met with strong resistance from moderates within the union.
Last week, members of that moderate faction on SAG's governing board ousted Allen, replaced him with attorney White, and set Tuesday as the date to restart the talks.
Rosenberg, SAG First Vice President Anne-Marie Johnson and others filed their lawsuit to overturn the board's move and reinstate Allen.
SAG's internal struggle and talk of a possible strike has Hollywood on edge. Painful memories of the 2007-2008 writers' strike, which cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $3 billion, remain fresh in the film and TV industry.
Editing by Peter Cooney